Whitmer: Vaccines the focus of fighting the COVID-19 wave

Check back later to see more of political reporter Rick Albin’s interview with Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (WOOD) — With COVID-19 cases rising in Michigan and hospitals raising the alarm about capacity, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s plea is the same as doctors’ pleas: Get vaccinated.

“We cannot predict a virus. What we can do is recognize (that) now, have the tools to stay safe,” Whitmer told News 8 in a video call on Wednesday morning.

“The people who show up with COVID and fill our hospital beds are not vaccinated,” she continued. “Unfortunately, that’s a choice that a lot of people have made, and that’s where our work really needs to be: focused on educating and making sure people understand that these vaccines work, they’re free, they’re easily accessible, and now anyone can enjoy them.” 5 years old and up is eligible.”

Michigan has been seeing a slow but steady increase in cases for months. Over the past few weeks, the numbers faster ballooning, while the lagging indicator of deaths is also ticking up. Spectrum Health, West Michigan’s largest hospital system, is treating more COVID-19 patients than ever before. Spectrum said last week that: 86% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated. The percentage is even higher in intensive care patients (90%) and ventilator patients (97%).

Whitmer noted that with the virus straining healthcare systems, it is making it more difficult for doctors and nurses to treat all patients, including those whose condition has nothing to do with the coronavirus.

When asked if she was considering reintroducing virus containment mandates, such as requiring masks in public places, the governor said no.

“The vaccines really are such a crucial tool that we obviously didn’t even have a year ago,” Whitmer said. “We’ve seen a real overlay from where people get COVID to where there are higher unvaccinated rates. Absolutely, that’s the root of the problem we’re having. So statewide mandates don’t make much sense at this point because it’s a specific population of unvaccinated people that we need to encourage to get vaccinated.”

She acknowledged that it will not be easy to reach the people who, even after the vaccines have been available for almost a year, have still chosen not to get them.

“I think it’s one of the most challenging issues we face, not just here in Michigan, but as a nation, and frankly, globally,” Whitmer said. “The early politics surrounding this public health crisis have been long tailed and have caused a lot of hardship in terms of reaching people and instilling confidence and making sure they have an open mind and are interested in these life-saving vaccines.”

She said she knows she won’t be able to reach some people who disagree with her politics, so she called on leaders across the aisle to spread the word to their voters.

“(Vaccines are) so important to our individual health, to our collective health and to our economic health,” Whitmer said.

The governor added that the state has encouraged local school districts to set mask requirements, although it has not required them so far. Last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a public health advisory encouraging everyone to wear masks in public, but not order them.

You can contact just about any pharmacy, health care system, or health department for information about getting vaccinated. Adults who received their first doses six months ago should also make an appointment for a booster.

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